For some, mornings are the worst part of the day. The constant conflict, the nagging and prodding, and the escalating emotions often result in an angry and frustrated goodbye between parents and children. The conflicted start to the day is not healthy for parents or children.
Let’s be clear: Morning routines need not be a hassle. They can be enjoyable.
That may sound a bit “pie-in-the-sky,” but it’s not. Just because many families struggle with morning routines, this does not mean it’s an essential right of passage for parents. With clarity and a few changes, even the most distractable, oppositional, and challenging children will quickly learn to appreciate a more easeful and enjoyable start to the day.
Keys to an Easy Morning Routine
1. Critical: Be the Leader in Preparedness
If you wait till the last minute and try to manage yourself, the kids, their routines, and everything in between, only disaster awaits. For many of you, this is your daily expectation and a heavy way to start the school year. It’s time for a change!
Instead, get up a half-hour earlier and be prepared and ready to go before trying to get the kids going. Yes, I know this is an absurdly simple suggestion, but it works! No confusing theories or complicated steps.
And please don’t start whining, “I’m not a morning person.” Because if you do, you teach your children the same belief system, and they will adopt the identical excuse. Remember: Change occurs when we make change; it never happens waiting for the inspiration to change.
With that thirty extra minutes, you can be a model of what you want from your kids. Show them how comfortable the morning can be when you are well prepared. It makes you more resourceful and calm as you get the “herd” going. Perhaps more importantly, being up and ready gives you the time to focus on the following two habit-changing strategies.
2. Insert Leverage in the Morning Routine
In the mornings, I find that parents have two types of leverage that they rarely use. The first is food (for younger children in particular), and the second is some form of “play or tech time,” such as playing with Legos or a few minutes on the iPad, the computer, phone, or TV.
You must learn to control these carefully by having firm limits. But when the kids are not so motivated to move quickly through the routine, learning to use leverage (even if only for ten minutes) is a potent way to get things moving.
The how-to of morning leverage: Set up a rule where your kids must be up, dressed, book bag packed, shoes on, and ready to go before breakfast or access to any electronics. This means the TV isn’t on, the toy room is closed, and no electronics (including phones) are allowed in any form BEFORE those morning routines are complete.
Set a loud timer when breakfast begins, and let everyone know they have 20 minutes to come and enjoy breakfast with you! Have another timer when breakfast is over. If they don’t get through the simple routine and complete breakfast, no electronics or play.
Do this every day, and be at the table with breakfast ready. Keep your energy moving forward, modeling a calm, forward focus.
Remember, no breakfast until your son or daughter is ready for school. If they must go to school hungry several times because they get up late and miss breakfast, just let that occur. Trust me, this natural consequence is vital to them in the early years, and they will remember that tomorrow. For some kids, missing breakfast is no big deal. Just relax and stick to the plan. Don’t let their attitude throw you off! (Remember: you still have the electronics and goodies as leverage to influence their behaviors.)
And then, when they do complete breakfast, dressed and ready, they only need to brush their teeth, and now they can play a bit. All the fundamentals are now complete. This is where you offer them some screen time, playtime, or even a video game before the bus arrives. Set up the system so that once your kids get everything done, they will regularly have 15-20 to play a bit before leaving for school and a bit longer, perhaps, if they are efficient.
The Magic: Only Invest Your Energy in Forward Movement
Under no circumstances do you nag, push, plead, or pull to get them going. Stop all engagement of their lollygagging around. Ignore their moaning and complaining. Ignore their laying-in bed. If you keep putting energy into their resistance, negativity, and sluggish behavior, this will be your life.
Rule of parenting: You cannot keep engaging in what you DON’T want and end up with what you DO want. Yelling at them while they are in bed, repeatedly complaining about how slow they are, or pulling them through each phase of the morning only worsens the very habits you want to change.
For the utterly stubborn, defiant, difficult, or attention-challenged child, this program will help, but you may need additional guidance. If so, learn more about how we assist adults and children to focus, attend, and follow through in life with more ease and satisfaction. Visit us at CapitalDistrictNeurofeedback.com.